Preparing a Young Professional for Work
Another batch of college graduates just finished their degrees—and are now in a job hunt. Sadly, many have lost hope of actually launching a career right away. Millions of them are loaded with potential—but no one has equipped them to close the gap between potential and performance. So what can you do about that?
Before I answer that question, let me give you the numbers.
At a time when unemployment among those aged 20 to 24 is over 13% (the highest percentage of any age group), a growing number of college students feel unprepared for the job market. In fact, according to an online survey from Millennial Branding that polled 1,345 students across the country, most college students believe, “that a bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma.” This comes from Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding. The study also found that 57% of students think internships are extremely important to help them learn real world skills, knowing they don’t learn them at school. Going to work full-time, for many, is like moving to a foreign country. Here’s a consensus of graduates’ opinions:
- The classroom doesn’t get you ready for a real job.
- The skills needed in a career are not learned or experienced at home.
- Employers are looking for some experience, but most students haven’t held down a job (not to mention a full-time job) prior to graduation.
Building the Right Habitudes in Their Career
This is why we are releasing a tool to spark conversation and discovery for young employees. Whether they’re interns, recent grads, or young professionals, we feel there are 13 essential conversations students need to have about their careers. They make up the brand new book Habitudes® for New Professionals. Let me offer a sampling of one of those conversations below:
I was in Singapore and had brought some cash with me from my last trip to Asia. I felt good about using my leftover money from a previous exchange. When making a purchase at a shopping mall, however, I got a shock. I handed the clerk some cash—and got a strange look from her. When I asked what was wrong, she smiled and said, “Sir, this money isn’t good here. It looks like it’s from the Philippines.”
I looked at it closely and suddenly grew embarrassed. Sure enough, she was right. I was trying to buy something in a foreign country with the wrong cash.
As ridiculous as this story sounds, it’s a picture of a principle every new team member needs to learn at work. Each company and supervisor has a certain currency you can spend at work. It’s not financial currency, though—it’s social currency. It’s learning to interact with bosses and colleagues in a way that both parties can give and receive what’s needed. It works like cash—but it’s actually more valuable. When the proper social currency is used, everyone wins. Both relationships and results improve.
It’s especially important for new professionals to understand this concept because they can’t influence through a fancy management position. They don’t have one yet. They’re new. The only currency they may have is social currency—influencing through relationships and results. This is how team members in any industry can gain influence. When you work hard, perform well, and do a good job representing your organization in public, you receive great credibility that can allow you to influence that organization behind closed doors. My friend, author Andy Stanley, says it this way: Loyalty publicly results in leverage privately.
Think about it. Michael Jordan wasn’t the head coach of the Chicago Bulls, but he certainly led the team. Lebron James isn’t the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he may have more influence than his head coach right now. It’s not about a position but a disposition… one that’s earned through the power of relationships and results.
Who’s Got the Gun?
In their book Managing Up, Michael and Deborah Dobson suggest a fitting analogy for social currency. Imagine you’re in doctor’s office. Patients are in the waiting room, and all is calm… when suddenly, a person walks in with a gun. Everyone can see it. Instantly, that person has influence. They have the power to control people’s behavior. We commonly assume that to persuade them, we’d have to get a gun ourselves. No doubt, that would be the easiest way to do it.
But we’ve all heard stories of people who talked someone out of shooting a gun, committing a crime, or even committing suicide. It was done through trust and relationship. To influence in that context—you must earn it.
The same is true with positions in an organization. At the risk of sounding crass: your boss has the gun. Their position lends them the power to change behavior. Brilliant leaders don’t lean on their position (their gun) but develop trusting relationships among team members. Those on the team, however, don’t have the advantage of having the gun. They MUST cultivate their influence in other ways, and I believe it’s done best through discovering what the social currency is in your workplace and leveraging it effectively.
When I began working with John Maxwell at twenty-three years old, I learned quickly that his most valuable currency was “time.” When I saved him time by helping him on a project, I gained all kinds of influence. A colleague of mine had a boss whose currency was “accuracy.” Another friend told me her supervisor’s currency was “loyalty.” Once you understand this principle, you can earn dividends, regardless of your title.